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Jung's Pagans, pt. 2: Doreen Valiente, Starhawk, and Margot Adler

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Carl Jung articulated a psychology in which myth emerges from biology, part of a natural process of individuation.  This 3-part guest post series by John Halstead explores the influence of Jung on major figures in Contemporary Paganism.

by John Halstead

Doreen Valiente

Doreen Valiente, from

Doreen Valiente was the yin to Gerald Gardner’s yang, and her influence on the development of Paganism arguably extended beyond Gardner’s.  As suggested above, but for Valiente’s influence, it is possible that Gardnerian witchcraft would have remained an insignificant branch of the British esoteric community. 

Valiente is responsible for the introduction of a greater role for the Goddess and the mortal priestess in Gardnerian Neo-Pagan witchcraft.  She revised Gardner’s “Book of Shadows” and is the author of the “Charge of the Goddess”, which is perhaps the single best known Neo-Pagan sacred text.

Valiente acknowledged the influence of Dion Fortune on her, describing her as “an occult writer who realized the true significance of the ancient gods, and their archetypal rule in the unconscious”.  Unfortunately, it was almost a decade after her initiation by Gardner that Valiente published her first book, Where Witchcraft Lives (1962), and it was not until the 1970s that she began to more directly influence the broader Pagan movement.

The influence of Jung

In her first work, the influence of Jung on Valiente is already apparent.  She writes that in the “deeps of the mind” Jung had “rediscovered the ancient gods; only he calls them 'the archetypes of the collective unconscious.’” 

This influence continues in her later publications.  In Witchcraft for Tomorrow (1978), Valiente wrote:  “In the collective unconscious of our race, therefore, dwell timelessly the images of the gods. They are the personifications of the forces of nature, and all are modifications of the primordial pair, the All-Father and All-Mother." 

Valiente goes on to mention Jung in all of her other major publications, including An ABC of Witchcraft (1973) and Natural Magic (1975).

Valiente's influence on others

It is possible that Valiente’s greatest influence on the development of contemporary Paganism was not through her writings, though but through her influence on other prominent Pagans, like the Farrars (who will be discussed later). 

Both Valiente and the Farrars had split from abusive male leaders of traditional Neo-Pagan witchcraft, Gerald Garner and Robert Cochrane in the case of Valiente, and Alex Sanders in the case of the Farrars.  In Valiente, the Farrars found a mentor and a true priestess.


Starhawk, from Wikipedia

The most important influence Jung had on the contemporary Pagan movement was probably through Starhawk and Margot Adler, both of whom published their most important works in 1979.  Starhawk’s book, The Spiral Dance, is the most widely read introduction to Paganism and has sold over 300,000 copies.  Starhawk was initiated in multiple Pagan traditions, which was not uncommon in the West Coat Pagan community of the 1970s.

Starhawk’s work draws from numerous influences and she is very bad about citing her sources, but the influence of Jung in her writing is readily apparent. 

The nature of the self

For present purposes, perhaps the most important influence on Starhawk was Victor Anderson, the founder of the Feri tradition.  Anderson’s Feri tradition drew on Huna, the thought of Hawaiian thinker Max Freedom Long. Both Huna and Feri taught that human beings have three levels of consciousness, which Starhawk calls the conscious “Talking Self”, the atavistic “Younger Self”, and the divine “Deep Self”. 

The Younger Self corresponds to Jung’s conception of the unconscious and the Deep Self corresponds to Jung’s conception of the “Self” (the numinous wholeness of the psyche).  In The Spiral Dance (1979, 1989, 1999), Starhawk writes that the purpose of Witchcraft was to get these “selves” communicating, and this is accomplished through ritual. 

According to Starhawk, the only way to reach the Deep Self is through the Younger Self:

“It is not the conscious mind, with its abstract concepts, that ever actually communicates with the Divine; it is the unconscious mind, the Younger Self, that responds only to images, pictures, sensations, tangibles.  To communicate with the Deep Self, the Goddess/God Within, we resort to symbols, to art, poetry, music, myth, and the actions of ritual that translate abstract concepts into the language of the unconscious.”

The nature of magic

Starhawk describes divinatory practices as a kind of “spiritual and psychological counseling” and magic primarily in terms of its psychological effects.  Inverting the way the relationship is typically described, she writes: “Psychology is simply a branch of magic.”  She describes magic in terms that many naturalistic Pagan would find acceptable today:

“Spells are extremely sophisticated psychological tools that have subtle but important effects on a person’s inner growth. ...  Practical results may be far less important than psychological insights that arise during magical working. ... Spells go one step further than most forms of psychotherapy.  They allow us not only to listen to an interpret the unconscious but also to speak to it, in the language it understands.  Symbols, images, and objects used in spells communicate directly with the Younger Self, who is the seat of our emotions and who is barely touched by the intellect.  We often understand our feelings and behavior, but find ourselves unable to change them.  Through spells, we can attain the  most important power--the power to change ourselves.”

Margot Adler

Margot Adler, from

Margot Adler is the granddaughter of Alfred Adler, who together with Jung and Freud, founded the psychoanalytical movement.

Margot Adler draws on Jungian theory to defend Neo-Paganism in her journalistic account of movement, Drawing Down the Moon (1979, 1986, 1996, 2006). Adler herself became converted to Paganism in the process of researching the book.  The book, while ostensibly descriptive, also came to have an important prescriptive effect on the development of contemporary Paganism. 

Polytheism and archetypes

While Starhawk failed to cite her sources, Adler was quite explicit about her debt to Jung:

“Much of the theoretical basis for a modern defense of polytheism comes from Jungian psychologists, who have long argued that the gods and goddesses of myth, legend and fairy tale represent archetypes, real potencies and potentialities deep within the psyche, which, when allowed to flower permit us to be more fully human.  These archetypes must be approached and ultimately reckoned with if we are to experience the riches we have repressed.  Most Jungians argue that the task is to unite these potentialities into a symphonic whole.”

She goes on:

“The Jungian conception that images of divinity and the sacred are representative of archetypes within the collective unconscious has given the neo-Pagan movement a conceptual framework within which it has been possible to accommodate polytheistic religious belief.”

Integration and disintegration

The influence of Jung is reflected not only in Adler’s commentary, but also in the quotes she selects from Neo-Pagans themselves.  For example, Adler notes the influence of Jung on Feraferia founder, Fred Adams.  Adler quotes from an essay of Adams, entitled “The Kore” in which he describes  “polytheistic wholeness” which consists of four “archetypal beings”: 

“The Mother is Source and Center.  The Son is creative separation, opening and outgoing.  The Father is full outwardness, withdrawal and particularization.  The Daughter of Holy Maiden is Creative Return ...” 

This cycle of archetypes closely resembles Jung’s description of the dialectical process of integration and disintegration of the ego in the maternal abyss of the unconscious.

b2ap3_thumbnail_John-Halstead.jpgJohn H. Halstead: Lawyer, father, and former Mormon, John crafts Pagan rituals for his family, explores his path through Jungian archetypes, and blogs at The Allergic Pagan.

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B. T. Newberg is the editor of Humanistic Paganism, a community blog for naturalistic spirituality.  For eleven years and counting, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective.  He is a member of ADF, and frequent contributor to Patheos, Witchvox, and GoodReads.  Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, and Japan, B. T. Newberg currently resides in South Korea with his wife and cat.


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